“Look it happens, you have fallen off the treadmill of this pretend normal life. There are so many cracks in this delicate, false reality that it’s easy to fall through one if you’re not careful. Suddenly, right now, you can’t find any meaning or value. This for you is the first time you have discovered that the life you’re living sucks, but you are lucky because most of us have always known that. You can just as easily have everything you ever wanted except now you know it has absolutely no meaning. You may feel these enormous waves of sadness, emptiness, futility, and terror. You might look around and wonder what you’re doing here. You suddenly don’t feel a connection to anything. Nothing gives you pleasure. You think nothing ever will again. There is nothing to strive for, nothing you can get or experience to fix it. The pointlessness of it all is crushing. Now you have two choices you can keep following that lie you have told yourself forever. About having to always be ‘the best’, where you follow the standards of everybody else. Or you can make yourself answerable to no one but yourself, always striving forward and only striving to ‘be better’.”
It was probably the greatest speech any fourteen-year-old boy had ever given in the history of teenagerdom. It was so perfect. It could have been straight out of a John Hughes film. Except this was not Sherman High, Illinois. This was not even the US of A. This was the French department’s stationary cupboard in St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School in Sidcup England, circa 1989. His battle cry had been for Ally Reynolds the most beautiful girl in the year, currently she was sat on the floor at the back of the cupboard. The speech was needed as it was the only thing that stopped her crying. Anthony Johnson was the boy with the oratory zeal, unusual for him because up until this point in life he had been totally unexceptional in every way.
“Listen, nobody puts baby in a corner, let’s show them,” said Anthony.
With that he stretched out his hand and she sniffed and wiped her nose a final time and took hold of it and rose up. She looked straight into Anthony’s eyes and smiled.
“Let’s go back to the dance,” she said.
In Anthony’s head the music started to play. It was Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes hit song ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life'. He could hear the opening electronic keys and the velvet warbling of Bill. The music from the main hall was blasting out Salt ‘N’ Pepa, ‘Push it’. Anthony could not hear that, he only heard Bill and Jennifer. It was also the soundtrack to this moment that would replay in his head for eternity, haunting his dreams as the most perfect moment of his short life. They skipped down the stairs holding each others hands and were just about to push the doors open into the main hall when a booming voice halted them.
“ALLY REYNOLDS. GET TO MY OFFICE THIS MINUTE.”
That was wrong that was not Jennifer Warnes’ next line. That was Sister Kathleen, the headmistress. The spell was broken. The music stopped.
Anthony sat on one of the chairs in reception. The dance was finishing. Ally was still in the head’s office. You see before his moment of triumph in the stationary cupboard there had been a scene. Ally had been dumped by Andrew Clark in front of every one at the dance for his new belle, Claire Standish. Andrew Clark was captain of the football team. John Hughes would have portrayed him as one of your typical ‘Sportso's’. In retaliation of the smug look in Claire's eyes and before running off to the stationary cupboard in tears, Ally swung a right hook and broke Claire’s nose. Anthony had ignored the chaos and followed after her. Anthony had been in love with Ally since the first year. He did not just love her for her beauty. He loved the poetry she wrote in English, her artwork, her performances in the drama club. If this was an American High School she would be class president. Practically perfect in every way. He did not think Ally even knew he existed. Not until that moment when he donned his shining armour and walked purposefully into that stationary cupboard.
Anthony knew he was a romantic. The truth was if this was the biopic of his life directed for Hollywood. This would be the prom, not just a disco with everyone wearing tracksuits and trainers. They would be wearing tuxedos and ball gowns. The reality was the nuns thought they were showing their street credentials by hiring a DJ. Their were rules however, afraid of teenage pregnancies - no slow dancing was allowed, no sneaking off with the opposite sex and definitely no kissing. If the nuns were not so obsessed by sex they might have picked up on the number of drug references their DJ was playing tonight. Anthony heard the crowd roar as the last track came on; Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five with 'White Lines (Don't Do It)'. He loved this song but it did not fit his current narrative so he tuned it out and chose to listen to Curiosity Killed The Cat sing 'Down to Earth'.
The door to the staff corridor opened and Ally and her father walked out. Followed by the king penguin that was Sister Kathleen. The nun was still berating Ally and wagging her finger at her father. Nuns in the eighties had that authority. Ally was ushered towards the door, just before she exited, she turned around and saw Anthony and mouthed the words ‘Thank you’. Then she was lost to the outside. Anthony did not care she had acknowledged him. The music inside his head had started again. This time it was Simple Minds, ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’. He ran outside and paused on the steps, spotting Ally in the car with her father, driving away. She turned to wave at him. Anthony knew that he was not living inside the movies. He knew John Hughes would have written his perfect ending. So in spite of all of this real world reality crashing in to spoil the party he also knew he had won. He had proved that fate was something you controlled. You mastered your destiny. This had been his greatest victory, in what so far had been a rather unremarkable life. With the phantom stereo still playing in his head he cut across the playing fields heading home. Then when the moment felt right, and just like Judd Nelson’s character did in ‘The Breakfast Club’, he punched the air in elation.
But the dance was also the last day of school, and in 1989, there were no mobile phones, no social media. Anthony could not find Ally and friend her on Facebook. Emails did not even exist. Most homes did not even have a computer. Most schools did not have a computer, or if they did it was one for the entire class, with a black screen and white text. In fact the eighties involved a lot of waiting around for people to just show up. A girl’s phone number was a trophy, especially one that actually worked and reached the correct girl. Then navigating around the parents would be another pitfall. Dad’s in the eighties were terrifying, they were the impossible gatekeeper. Ally also lived the next town over, so engineering an accidental encounter was impossible.
Anthony did not mind. He now knew that fate was something you could control. Six weeks for summer would fly pass, then in September he could reignite what Sister Kathleen extinguished. He had broken the ice and knew that Ally would be thinking of him all summer long as he would be about her. He never told a soul about the stationary cupboard. He had seen nearly every film set in an American high school, who would believe him? He would hold his fire, because all good things come to those who wait.
When September arrived he was eager to get back to school.
Anthony was unusually quiet during the bus journey in. The problem was his heart was soaring, he had an anticipation inside him just wanting to erupt out like an explosion. He barely listened to anyone during registration, as everyone caught up after so long away. He was waiting for only one thing. He just wanted to be at the customary, first day, whole school assembly. He searched along the lines for Ally, but could not see her. He searched for her at break. Then he searched the class lists in the PE corridor. She was not on any. Eventually he asked someone who rode her bus route and found out that Ally had left. Her family had relocated. Her dad had picked up a job in Chicago and moved them all out there over the summer. Then Anthony learnt that fate danced around this world with an opposite. Fate was inextricably linked with Chance. Both controlled your destiny. You could tame and ride Fate but Chance was something out of your control. Chance would tame and ride you. The music started again in Anthony's head, it was ‘A Thousand Hours’ by The Cure.
The thing with chance it is fickle and will inevitable give back to those it has taken from. Thirty years have passed and Anthony is standing in the ballroom at the Plaza Hotel, New York and cannot believe who he can see standing at the bar. Ally Reynolds is there in a stunning ball gown and looking sensational, this was how she would of looked that day at the dance if Anthony did not live in the real world and had a Hollywood studio directing his life. Anthony still did not have a Hollywood studio, he did however have a twenty five per cent stake in one. The years have been good to Anthony he was in New York to do a casting for the latest film he is producing. He was meeting a couple of A-listers to dot the i's and cross the t's. Knowing that chance has returned his stallion Fate to him, he rides over to Ally, he is nervous, really nervous but times his interruption to perfection.
“Yes” she replies.
“It is Anthony from St. Mary’s in England”
“I’m sorry. I don’t think I know you.”
“St. Mary’s with the king penguin, Sister Kathleen.”
“It sounds delightful but I have no idea what you are talking about.”
The music starts to play again in Anthony’s head. He tips his head to the side looking at Ally. He visually grimaces and says.
“My blunder, just a case of mistaken identity.” He pauses wanting to say so much more. “Hey have a good night, enjoy your evening.”
He turns around and walks out of the ballroom along the corridors and out into the foyer. He pauses and looks around at everything. Questioning the reality of the myth he had formed in his mind for so long he reaches out and knocks on the wood of the reception.
“Can I help you, sir,” asks the receptionist.
“Just seeing if it is real.”
With that he walks out the grand entrance and crosses the road over into central park. He is not angry, sad or broken. Just confused. He walks further into the night. The soundtrack in his head is Soul II Soul and they are playing Back to Life '(However Do You Want Me)'. The chorus is taunting him. Back to Life, Back to Reality, Back to Life, Back to Reality....
Soon after Anthony leaves, Ally feels dizzy. She makes her excuses and departs following where he went. By the time she gets to the foyer he has gone. She is so angry with herself. She walks over to the elevators and gets in. Alone, looking at her reflection inside she lets out the longest tortured scream. Pulling herself back together she leans her head against the cold metal interior and inside that one word bounces round her head, ‘Why’. She panicked. She knew who Anthony Johnson was. Who didn't? He was Hollywood royalty. His films are huge. She spotted him the minute she entered the ballroom. Did she think she was funny and cool and aloof. Why on earth did she play hard to get? Did she then feel that it was going desperately wrong and revert to a defensive position? Why did he not try harder? Why did he turn around like that and just walk off? She was a captain of industry, how did she get so flustered? She has never forgot what he said in that stationary cupboard thirty years ago. She was just so surprised to see him. Who mentions penguins in a pick up line? She has lived her life not trying to be the best, just trying to be better. She has killed it; she has broken glass ceiling after ceiling living off them exact words. She just panicked, even as the words were spilling out of her mouth there was a voice inside her head screaming at her to stop. Screaming at her, asking her what she was playing at. She turns around and leans against the wall. A song starts playing in her head, Whitney Houston's ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’.
For all you millennials some hits from the 80s
(I've Had) The time Of My Life
White Lines (Don't Do It)
Down to Earth
Don't You (Forget About Me)
A Thousand Hours
Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)
I Wanna Dance With Somebody